We all know the slogans, “I’m Lovin’ It,” “Have It Your Way,” “Think Outside the Bun,” and “Better Ingredients, Better Pizza.” They are iconic. They stick in your head. However, these slogans represent more than just food. They represent companies who offer consistency, options, affordability, and accessibility. Despite all the protests. Despite the unhealthiness of it all, there is a part of us that craves the products represented by these slogans. We may not admit it out loud, we may barely admit it to ourselves, but we are satisfied once we’ve taken that first bite.
At first, fast food and education are not a likely comparison. But take a closer look and they share more similarities than we think. For starters, they both received national attention and focus from President Obama’s administration. First Lady, Michelle Obama, is an active advocate against childhood obesity that many attribute to fast food and unhealthy choices. President Obama, even as recently as Friday, continued his support towards improving education. So given this scrutiny and news coverage, why is the change we need in education so slow in coming? It’s time we openly admit our love for fast food and how it has shaped our view of education.
- “I’m Lovin’ It”: We are in love with education. In spite of all the technological advancements brought about by the Information Age, deep down inside, we love the tradition and consistency the word education conjures up in our minds. We love the standardization that assessments bring. We love the data that is gathered as a result of the tests. We are still trying to assess students using the same methods. We are still trying to teach students the same way we did 100 years ago. So maybe it’s not education we are loving, maybe it’s the idea of education. If this is the case, our idea of education needs to change. We love French fries because somewhere in our psyche it takes us back to that time in our childhood when French fries alone could cure our first skinned knee. We love the idea of what the French fry represents just like we love the idea of what education represents; however, if education doesn’t work for a majority of the population, what is there really to love?
- “Have It Your Way”: We need options and, simultaneously, we need the immediate satisfaction our chosen option brings. We don’t want the exact same burger as everyone else. We want a burger that meets our individual craving. We like having our need for options validated. The evidence is all around us. When did fast food ever claim to be “the healthy option?” The answer is never. However, since we want to feel good about our fast food needs, fast food restaurants have caved and now offer “healthy” options. If this public pressure worked on billion dollar fast food empires, surely it can work for education. No two students learn the same way and the student population today is vastly different from even 30 years ago. Today, people are mobile, busy, and have little time to invest in their pursuit of professional and personal dreams. So why can’t valid learning in all its varied forms culminate in an earned degree or credential? The argument is that it can, but why are the institutions offering this option the minority? If meeting students where they are has been a mantra throughout higher education then why is competency-based education just now making a “comeback”? If students want options it seems education wants conformity. However, what a successful economy needs to survive is diversity brought about by providing individualized options to meet the needs of students who are the leaders, business executives, and innovators of tomorrow.
- “Think Outside the Bun”: Options need financing. This is a true statement. When you peel back all the layers, the crux of the matter is money. Education needs to be affordable. This is why federally funded programs like Title IV and Pell Grants exist. Many institutional innovations are limited by financial aid restrictions and the problems they would cause in calculating, distributing, and refunding federal funds. The problem isn’t funding, money, or student loans. The problem is freedom to meet students’ needs in a variety of ways knowing that an institution singularly cannot be all things to all people. An online university will never be Harvard University, but the great news is that it doesn’t need to be. There will always be students who will benefit from the full, out-of-high-school, 4-year, university experience, but there are also millions of students who don’t share or have the freedom to pursue those dreams. Regardless of the educational goal, the cost of education should not be the barrier that keeps students from achieving them. It’s time education reimagined the affordability crisis. The tools are scattered everywhere, they just need to be reorganized, placed back into the toolbox, but more importantly we need to teach students how to use the tools they need. The cost of the tools should not prevent students from learning how to use them.
- “Better Ingredients, Better Pizza”: One thing that technology has afforded society is immediate access to mostly accurate information. We can know in an instant how many high school students will be graduating in 2015, how many have plans to attend college, and how many will be entering the workforce without the basic knowledge, skills, and abilities to earn a living wage. While educational change may be slow, it is happening. There are many institutions across higher education who have looked at the data, seen its effects on students, and rolled up their sleeves to do something about it. Institutions are working to make education accessible to everyone ready to learn. In the not-so-distant past, we’ve seen the rise of MOOCs, competency-based education, hybrid law schools, online learning, and the metrics that allow research into these learning methodologies. More than ever before, we have the opportunity to personalize education to the learner. Not only can this learning be customized, the technology exists to provide the instructional support so students can be successful. We have the ingredients, we just need to use them to make education more efficient.
Fast food restaurants are still around because they focus on the trends. Classics are offered alongside new, healthier options. The important lesson learned was customers want consistency, options, affordability, and accessibility. We want it all. Education needs all of the same things to meet the needs of students today. Students need the knowledge, skills, and abilities to tackle the challenges of tomorrow, but many need it in a way it’s never been delivered before. The jobs of yesterday are quickly disappearing so why do we think the education of yesterday can continue to meet the needs of the future?
“If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got.” ~ Henry Ford
We expect more.
What is your institution doing today to meet the needs of students tomorrow?